AOL SIGNS UP ASHTON KUTCHER FOR CONTENT

Producer of 'Beauty and the Geek' Will Create 20 Mini-Episodes

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Ashton Kutcher is the latest celebrity producer to sign with America Online to create an original series for the portal, following the announcement last month that Mark Burnett, who produces the reality hit shows “The Apprentice” and “Survivor,” will create an online treasure hunt series called “Gold Rush.”
Jason Goldberg (left) and Ashton Kutcher.
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The as-yet-unnamed project from Mr. Kutcher will include five programs, each with 20 mini-episodes, which will be available on AOL.com and AOL's instant messenger service starting in late spring. Mr. Kutcher is developing them through his production company, Katalyst Films, in a deal put together by Endeavor Marketing, a division of Interpublic Group of Cos. Financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.

AOL's programming strategy
AOL’s push to produce original content is part of its strategy to become an online programming leader to attract audience to the retooled, video-rich AOL.com. The programming push also involves AOL aligning with corporate sibling Warner Bros. -- both are divisions of Time Warner -- to offer thousands of full-length TV episodes from the Warner Bros.' library through a new channel called In2TV. AOL also recently struck a deal with Google that will also allow it to cross-market content across the two sites, for which Google will pay Time Warner $1 billion for a 5% stake in AOL. Google recently launched a video search product.

Jason Goldberg, Mr. Kutcher’s partner with whom he developed “Beauty and the Geek” for WB and “Punk’d” for MTV, said the programs will have “attitude” and will feature real people -- no celebrities -- and have an edgy, youth-oriented tone.

“We have an approach to this space that we are going to create Internet stars,” Mr. Goldberg said. “I wouldn’t compare it to anything we’ve done. It’s a completely original concept and an original approach to this space.”

The content will appear through multiple channels on AOL and in AIM and be interactive, Mr. Goldberg said.

Sponsorship-type deals
He would not get specific about the types of advertising that would accompany the project, but indicated that the media buys would be sponsorship-type deals with a branded placement look and feel. “They are not in the business of gratuitous product placement,” said Jimmy Yaffe, managing partner, Endeavor Marketing. “They embrace the idea of messaging and marketing, but they are also going to go to brands that they think make their content more relevant.”

Jim Bankoff, exec VP-programming and products at AOL, said he is in discussion with some advertisers and is looking for the right partners. “It’s about being irreverent and having a surprise element, being in tune with a young demographic and their needs.”

The sweet spot is for the shows are young adults, 18 to 24 years old. About 23% of AOL’s 75 million unique visitors in January were between 12 and 24, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Some 28% of AOL’s 51 million instant messenger audience were between 12 and 24.

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